CULPRIT, properly the prisoner at the bar, one accused of a crime; so used, generally, of one guilty of an offence. In origin the word is a combination of two Anglo-French legal words, culpable, guilty, and prit or prist, i.e. prest, Old French for prU, ready. On the prisoner at the bar pleading " not guilty," the clerk of the crown answered " culpable," and stated that he was ready (prest) to join issue. The words cul. prist (or prit) were then entered on the roll as showing that issue had been joined. When French law terms were discontinued the words were taken as forming one word addressed to the prisoner. The formula " Culprit, how will you be tried ?" in answer to a plea of "not guilty," is first found in the trial for murder of the 7th earl of Pembroke in 1678.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)